In his fortnightly radio programme “Mann Ki Baat” on January 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi referred to an illustration in the original, calligraphed document of the Indian Constitution that depicted Ram, Sita and Laxman to claim that the framers of the code had “allotted due space” to these Hindu deities because Ram’s reign was a “source of inspiration” for them.

Modi added that this explains why he had emphasised Ram’s importance in nation-building in India while speaking at the Ayodhya temple consecration on January 22. “We have to expand our consciousness from dev to desh, Ram to rashtra – from deity to nation,” he had said.

The prime minister isn’t the first Bharatiya Janata Party leader to make this claim. In recent years, other party leaders such as Ravi Shankar Prasad have pointed to the artwork to claim Ram and the values he represented are enshrined in the Constitution. Last fortnight, Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar said that referring to Ram as a mythological character is an insult to the makers of the Constitution, who “placed the photo with a lot of thought and conscience”.

The reality, experts told Scroll, is very different. They noted that the illustration of these deities was part of a series of 22 artworks in the original document of the Constitution depicting India’s cultural history featuring a diverse set of figures from Gautam Buddha to Mughal ruler Akbar. They said foregrounding one illustration without acknowledging the others amounted to stripping the Constitution of its secular character.

Moreover, the debates of the Constituent Assembly, the body which drafted the Constitution, do not contain any references to Ram as having provided inspiration for the document.

The art in the Indian Constitution

All the drawings in the original document of the Constitution were done by Santiniketan-based artist Nandalal Bose and his students after the Constitution was enacted.

Besides Ram, Sita and Laxman, the drawings feature a scene from the epic Mahabharata, images of the Buddha, Jainism founder Mahavir, Sikh religious leader Guru Gobind Singh, Mughal ruler Akbar, Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan as well as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Subhash Chandra Bose, among others.

“There is no reference to any divine influence in the written part of the Constitution,” said Aditya Mukherjee, who teaches at the Centre for Historical Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. “Bose’s work is a painter’s view of how India’s history evolved.”

Former Lok Sabha Secretary General PDT Achary said that no meaning should be attached to any of the artworks in the Constitution except that they are a pictorial representation of India’s cultural history.

“There are 22 drawings, one preceding each of the chapters of the Constitution, but they have nothing to do with the chapters themselves,” Achary said. “The drawings are in chronological order representing different periods of history. That’s why the first drawing is of a bull which depicts a seal from the Indus Valley civilisation.”

The politics of Ram Rajya

The Constituent Assembly, which drafted India’s Constitution, held 11 sessions over 166 days between December 9, 1946 and November 26, 1949. The transcripts of all the debates of the Constituent Assembly are publicly available. There is no mention of the Hindu deity Ram in any of the debates.

The sole reference to Ram Rajya, or the Utopian reign of Ram, appears in a speech delivered by freedom fighter Mahavir Tyagi on December 27, 1948.

Making a case for a provision for those in public office to take the oath in the name of god, Tyagi said: “...If God is banished I do not know what swaraj [self-rule] will mean to India. Personally I along with so many others, seniors and juniors, and millions of people fought for 30 years for Swaraj. The Swaraj of my conception was Ram Raj.”

After pointing out that officials of the All India Radio had decided against broadcasting recitations of religious texts, Tyagi went on to say: “If secular state means that our children will not know about the Ramayana or listen to the Gita or the Koran or the Granth what is political freedom worth? This is stretching the meaning too far. If God is banished from this Ram Rajya, India will become Ayodhya without Ram.”

Outside the Constituent Assembly, the concept of Ram Rajya had been popularised by Mohandas Gandhi too. However, Mukherjee told Scroll that Gandhi’s idea of Ram Rajya was not centred around a Hindu deity but signified rule based on a moral code of ethics.

“Gandhi had himself said that his Ram Rajya can also be called khudai raj for those who believe in khuda [a Persian-origin word used by Muslims for referring to god],” Mukherjee said.

Achary also stressed that the makers of the Constitution had made it a point to not include any references to any god. He pointed out that Constituent Assembly member HV Kamath had moved a proposal that the Preamble of the Constitution should begin with a reference to god.

“But the proposal was defeated in a vote and it was decided that the opening words be ‘We, the people of India’,” Achary said.

Also read: Indians should stop reading too much into the artwork on the Constitution and instead heed its words